This Month in Gaming History: August


August 1976: One of console gaming’s most pioneering events occurs with the release of the Fairfield Channel 5, which is the first ever video game machine to use cartridges as a medium. However, it would quickly be overshadowed by the hugely successful Atari 2600, released the following year.

August 1982: Another important hardware launch, and another one that was overshadowed by a blockbuster competitor (at least in the United States). This time it was the Commodore 64 home computer, which was technically a personal computer that just happened to play games, although arguably its game library is as big a part of its legacy as any other factor. In various other regions of the world, especially the UK, it is often seen as the more successful and beloved 8-bit console as opposed to the NES.

August 23, 1983: The third installment in the hugely popular Ultima series is released. Ultima III: Exodus evolved the role playing genre in several big ways: it was the first to have animated characters, and the first to feature tactical, turn-based combat. Though it was heavily inspired by the game Wizadry, Exodus is often credited as a major influence on the creators of both the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series. In other words, Wizardy is to Ultima III and the RPG genre as Alone in the Dark is to Resident Evil and the survival horror genre.

August 23, 1991: Apparently August used to be a big month for releasing new hardware, as Nintendo launched the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in North America on this date. The system came packaged with Super Mario World, and the rest of the launch lineup included Pilotwings, SimCity, and Gradius III. It would go on to become the 7th best-selling home game console of all time, interestingly enough finishing just behind its predecessor and just ahead of its direct competitor, the Sega Genesis.

August 20, 1993: The previously text-based adventure series Zork features actual character and environment graphics for the first time with the release of Return to Zork. The game also marked both the beginning of a new era for the series after a five-year hiatus, and the end of the franchise being published under the Infocom banner (Activision bought the company out and eventually closed them – a shocking move from Activision, I know – and began publishing the series themselves).

August 31, 1994: It was easy not to expect much from a game “presented” by a car magazine and released for the failure that was the 3DO system. However, Road and Track Presents: The Need for Speed would not only end up being a surprisingly well-made racing game and one of the few bright spots for the 3DO, but it is the first installment in what would become one of the most successful franchises in video game history with close to 150 million units sold to date.

August 14, 1995: The Nintendo Entertainment System is officially discontinued in North America, ending an incredibly impressive ten-year run, with four of those years being concurrent with the SNES’ lifespan. Even more astounding is that it was retired only one year prior to the North American launch of the Nintendo 64.

August 31, 1995: This day saw the release of one of the most influential PC games of all time, Command & Conquer. Though not technically the first real-time strategy game, it is widely credited as being the genre’s most influential title.

August 1996: Valve Corporation is founded in Washington. Their very first game would be Half-Life, which makes the debut game of pretty much every other company look lazy by comparison.

August 25, 1997: Rare and Nintendo prove that the first-person shooter genre can be viable on consoles with the release of Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64. It was also one of the earliest examples – on consoles or PC – of an FPS that had a deep, atmospheric story mode and more realistic action as opposed to the over-the-top nature of games like Doom and Quake.

August 1999: In what may be be the most prolific August for good game releases in video game history, the following games were all released: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, System Shock 2, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear, and Syphon Filter.

August 2002: Then again, this August is no slouch, either: The PlayStation 2’s marquee online title, SOCOM: U.S. NavySEALs, as well as the online version of Twisted Metal Black; strategy game sequels Medieval: Total War and Commandos 2: Men of Courage; ambitious decade-spanning open-world game Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven; the surprisingly good The Thing; and the final pre-reboot Turok title, Turok: Evolution, which is really only worth mentioning because EGM named a bad games award after the game’s antagonist, Tobias Bruckner, an award they use to this day.